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“The best way out is always through.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Weather & Photography: Abandon Your Preconceptions

Preconceptions in photography can be a dangerous thing creatively. They can make you so focused on looking for the images that you see in your mind's eye that you ignore even better possibilities that are right in front of you and, even worse, they can cause you to get discouraged if you're not finding the types of images you wanted to find.

Preconceptions are especially problematic when it comes to weather because you simply can't predict (or change) it. As I mentioned in my last posting, last week I went to the Statue of Liberty to shoot pictures for several book projects. Lady Liberty is something I've always wanted to spend a day or two photographing and I had to make some pretty elaborate (and expensive) arrangements to make the weekend happen--car rental (simpler than driving my 20-year-old van in NY traffic!), hotel, ferry tickets, etc. The one thing I hoped for was a nice crisp blue sky on the days I'd be shooting. I'd done a lot of picture research leading up to the weekend and I knew exactly what I wanted: Liberty's green copper face against a rich blue August sky.

Naturally as the weekend drew closer, the weather reports were anything but encouraging (this is a perpetual pattern in my life) and, in fact, the weather people were calling for possibly the worst of all weather options: rain, thunderstorms and heavy cloud cover. Yuk. No blue skies were forecast. Surprisingly though, when we got out to Liberty Island the weather morons were wrong once again--the sky was perfectly blue with occasional puffy clouds giving relief from the intense sunshine. Yes, sunshine--and lots of it. In fact, the sun was so intense that after an hour of shooting around noon, I had to seek out the shade of a beautiful wooded grove.

As I was shooting though, I realized that the statue didn't look as great against a blue sky as I had thought it would--and the sunshine was creating really contrasty and unattractive shadows on her face. Then clouds started gathering and I lost the blue sky. As the cloud cover thickened I found myself losing the desire to keep shooting--and I nearly stopped. But determined to find good shots, I kept looking for new angles--low, sideways, from behind, etc. I was even able to shoot some silhouettes against the sun at one point. Sun and clouds began to mix and the sun started to hide more often than not (one point to the weather people). Then it became very apparent that a big storm was headed our way and the skies darkened and thunder and lightning began to scatter the crowds.

Suddenly though, with the sky getting darker and darker, Liberty's face began to take on a strange luminescent glow. Her face seemed to posses a far more soulful expression with the sunlight gone. It became clear to me that the beautiful sunny day shot I had envisioned wasn't the only great shot--and perhaps not even the best one. With rain and hail starting to pelt me, I kept shooting until the sky behind her crown was nearly black. These were far more dramatic shots that I had been looking for. Finally the skies opened up and I had to pull on a poncho and stop shooting, but I'd managed to get several shots that I liked a great deal.

Don't let bad weather stop your shooting and don't let your preconceptions of what "good" weather and good lighting is close your imagination to even better opportunities. You can't control the weather, but you can alter your creative vision to match the weather--and you certainly should.

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